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Canoeing with Sora Rails (Part III)

My attention shifted. Behind the rail and several feet away stood another sora rail, facing the other way. This one appeared more slender and sleek and its face wasn’t as dark. The sun hit it just right making its breast, chest, neck, and cheek glow an odd pinkish orange. Its reflection also mirrored in the water. What was it standing on? It turned around and walked in the direction of the other one, which was still minding its own business perched where it had been, and then changed its mind again turning around and heading back the other direction. With the sunlight, it was a beautiful painting in motion. It walked away a little bit but then turned around again, and circled back, changed its mind yet again, turned and walked away. Then the first one followed it. They squabbled a little – seemed silly to be fighting over lily pads with there being so many. Then it seemed like they changed places. A third one entered on to the scene, the first one walked toward it and they also squabbled. It was amusing to watch. We had watched the birds for over ten minutes before Larry turned the canoe around to start making our way back. Hank whined throughout. Larry said, “Isn’t it funny how they fight? – It’s my pad.”

Larry pushed the canoe back through the huge lily patch. I noticed several more sora rails, all near the wild rice plants along the edges. Every time Hank whined, Larry told him to hush. At one point, Larry stopped the canoe, grabbed the paddle and reversed the canoe, for a moment I was confused as to why. The long pole had gotten stuck, leaving Larry’s hands, so he backed up to get it. Larry then put it back in the canoe once he freed it from the vegetation and muck – he then went back to using the paddle. Soon we were through the vast lily patch.

We didn’t follow our previous course completely. Instead of passing on the east side of the island of trees – we glided through a small opening in the wild rice plants to go down the other channel. Flying up out of the water somewhere ahead of us was a marsh hawk, another name for northern harrier. When it came up out of the water it looked like it had something in its talons but it dropped it. I felt bad that we may have been the cause of it dropping its food. I was excited to get a better look at it though. Magnificent bird, I enjoyed watching it soar past. From what I could see of it, it was dark brown with a bright white patch just above its tail feathers with some white on the underside of its wings. Its head was turned our direction when it soared, some distance away and above us, past on our right. Was it looking at us?

Trees loomed up out of the marsh to our right. Some of the trees had already lost most of their leaves. I again marveled at the simplistic, yet elegant, beauty of the wild rice plants bordering the channel on either side. There was more water in this channel. As we glided along, Larry said, “This is a remnant of the Zumbro when it came through here.” (Which is probably part of the reason for it having more water.) Again, we saw a lot of red wing black birds decorating the trees above the wild rice plants, easily hundreds of them – all chattering. We continued to glide along lazily. A large flock of the black birds took off from the wild rice plants as we went by, wings pounding the air. Larry said, “If you were tucked behind a blind out here and spent the night, in the early morning hours they’d sound like thunder.”

The beauty of the marsh, especially with it poised, ready to launch into fall color, was so healing and refreshing. The dead snags mingled in with the alive and fully clothed trees, lovely, adding to the overall essence of the place. A pair of ducks flew off to our right along with the black birds; I wasn’t able to see what kind they were. The channel had begun to bend slowly to our left, taking us more and more southeast, once the bend was complete we were heading east; startling black birds the whole way, through the wild rice and trees. Cattails started to take over the scene, growing more abundant, especially along the south bank, on our right. – They still looked quite green. I just loved the trees standing tall above us on either side. As we were turning southeast, the bridge came into view. It had been hidden behind the bend. I always feel a little sad when the bridge comes back into view, and we’re heading toward it. Looking to my left, I saw something brown in the water, behind a curtain of wild rice plants – either a beaver or a muskrat but most likely a muskrat. It was just sitting there in the water, running its forepaws through its fur, grooming. My heart leaped. I turned very slightly to get a better look at it but with my movement, it spooked and dived beneath the water. “Was that a beaver or a muskrat?” I asked Larry.

“I don’t know. I didn’t see it, but it sounded like a muskrat. Did you see it?”

“Yeah, it was grooming.” Though it had disappeared so quickly, I was still thrilled to have seen it at all. As we neared the bridge, we startled a few more ducks – I believe they were teal. I started to put one of my camera lenses away to make it easier to step out of the canoe onto the bank but Larry stopped me by saying, “We’ll head downstream a little bit if you have time.”

“Ok, I have time.” So Larry expertly guided us under the bridge. While I was taking a picture of the pilings, Larry said, “Water marks from when the water was high for an extended amount of time.” I enjoyed the reflections of the trees in the water there too. The red wing black birds were hard at work harvesting the wild rice. I loved the willow tree leaning over the water. We went past it then turned around. Larry thought there was something in the tree so he got us really close to it, pushing the bow almost under the branches. But we weren’t able to see it. There were a whole bunch of whirly gig beetles spinning around on the water’s surface – Larry thought it would be fun to video them and have a sound track. We made our way back up the channel to the bridge and landed the canoe. Larry said, “We should try to get out again next week, things will start to senesce quickly.”

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